Today is February 12 2023. And the title for my teisho today is, it's okay to suffer. Of course suffering, I think everybody knows, is the first of the Four Noble Truths, the first sermon that the Buddha delivered after his great awakening. Suffering is also one of the three characteristics of existence. The Buddha laid out suffering, impermanence and no self dukkha what is what is impermanence? Go ahead, speak up on each on each. Yeah, that's no self, I think. No. Thank you. All right.
Want to read a little something from Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen school, he said this, everyone who has a body is an heir to suffering and a stranger to peace. Having comprehended this point, the y's are detached from all things of the phenomenal world, with their minds free of desires and craving. As the sutra has it, all sufferings sprang from attachment. True joy arises from detachment. To know clearly the bliss of detachment is to walk on the path of the doubt. This is the rule of non attachment. So Bodhidharma said this, some 15 1600 years ago. This is not what we're taught in society growing up.
We're taught to avoid suffering any way possible. We're taught that we don't have time for the pain. Even even a good psychotherapist may buy into the strategy of preventing our bad feelings and chasing after our good ones. And when we do that, we're looking past the reality of our life as it is right now. And we're concerning ourselves with what's going to come. And it's probably not a new idea to many people here in the Zendo. But it's it's just mind boggling how hard it is to get this to sink in. It's so habitual when we feel the slightest twinge of discomfort, to sort of squirm away. Because it's what we've always done. spoke last week about DBT dialectical behavior therapy, and the idea of radical acceptance. It's easy to talk about, it's very hard to do. It's a practice. It's a lot of what our practice our Zen practice is about. Opening up to the way things are, even when it doesn't feel so great. I'm going to read a little selection from one of the bad boys of early Zen. Not sure if I ever heard a good word about Alan Watts. I'm sure at this moment, Roshi Kapleau has been in his grave
and, you know for for some good reasons. But let me first say what I like about Alan Watts. And that's that this guy convinced me that there was the Zen was for real. It just he took an intellectual 20 year old which was what I was when I first read any of his work and convinced me that the way I did Looking at the world was wrong. It was a different it was it was mind blowing, to come on that. And I think I think a lot of other people have been helped by some of what he wrote. The criticism, if you're wondering of Alan Watts, is that you could you could argue that it stays on an intellectual level, that he's not so concerned with how we can actually make real in our own bodies and minds. The philosophy, let's say, the truth that he's talking about. Nevertheless, it's a really nice presentation, and especially for the whole issue of anxiety, casting our minds into the future, looking for problems. And as a result, leaving our real life the life of this moment behind, just going to pick and choose a few things. This is from an article I found this on a website, sort of a blog, it's been going on, I guess, for maybe 15 or 20 years, with a woman named Maria Popova. And the site is called the margin alien. And this is an article about Alan Watts. It's called an antidote to the age of anxiety, Alan Watts on happiness and how to live with presents.
She says once argues at the root of our human frustration, and daily anxiety is our tendency to live for the future, which is an abstraction. And Alan Watts writes, If to enjoy even an enjoyable present, we must have the assurance of a happy future. We are crying for the moon, we have no such assurance, the best predictions are still matters of probability rather than certainty. And to the best of our knowledge, every one of us is going to suffer and die. If then, we cannot live happily without an assured future. We are certainly not adapted to living in a finite world where despite the best plans, accidents will happen, and where death comes at the end.
I look at myself and I resonate with that reluctance to relax into a happy present if I'm worried about something in the offing.
Yet my direct experience is only this moment. This moment may include my anxieties about the future. But that future that I imagine, that's not there, it's just my imaginings. What says the primary consciousness the basic mind which knows reality, rather than ideas about it does not know the future. It lives completely in the present and perceives nothing more than what is at this moment. The ingenious brain, however, looks at that part of present experience called memory, and by studying it is able to make predictions. These predictions are relatively accurate and reliable enough, for instance, everyone will die, that the future assumes a high degree of reality, so high that the present loses its value. But the future is still not here and cannot be a part of experienced reality until it is present. Since what we know of the future is made up of purely abstract and logical elements, inferences, guesses deductions. It cannot be eaten, felt, smelled, seen, heard or otherwise enjoyed. To pursue it is to pursue a constantly retreating Phantom and the faster you chase it, the faster it runs ahead. This is why all the affairs of civilization are rushed by hardly anyone enjoys what he has in his forever seeking more and more happiness than will consist not of solid and substantial realities, but such abstract and superficial things, as promises, hopes, and assurances. As I recall, Barack Obama's first presidential campaign was centered around hope.
Lot here and I'm not going to read it all.
He says further down further on, recognizing that the experience of presence is the only experience is also a reminder that our AI doesn't exist beyond this present moment, that there is no permanent static and immutable self, which can grant us any degree of security and certainty for the future. And yet, we continue to grasp for precisely that assurance of the future, which remains an abstraction. Actually, this is not watts, excuse me, this is this Maria Popova. Our only chance for awakening from this vicious cycle Watts argues, is to bring full awareness to our present experience something very different from judging it, evaluating it, or measuring it up against some arbitrary or extremely abstract ideal.
And he writes, there is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentary, pneus and fluidity. Notice we've gotten in the other two characteristics of existence here, the non existence of the eye, and the changeability of everything. Universe university whose very nature is momentary, pneus and fluidity, but the contradiction lies a little deeper than the mere conflict between the desire for security and the fact of change. If I want to be secure, that is protected from the flux of life, I am wanting to be separate from life. Yet it is this very sense of separateness, which makes me feel insecure. To be secure means to isolate and fortify the eye. But this is just the feeling of being an isolated i, which makes me feel lonely and afraid. In other words, the more security I can get, the more I shall want could also say the more I chase it, the more I won't get it. He says to put it more plainly, the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity, the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing to hold your breath is to lose your breath. A silent society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath retention contest in which everyone is taught as a drum and as purple as a beat.
He has also had some trends and things to say about our project of trying to improve this self of ours. He says I can only think seriously of trying to live up to an ideal to improve myself if I am split into pieces. There must be a good eye who is going to improve the bad me i Who has the best intentions will go to work on wayward me and the tussle between the two will very much stress the difference between them and consequently I will feel more separate than ever and so merely increase the lonely and cut off feelings which make me behave so badly
Yeah, I think that's that's enough
everyone's fighting this hard struggle. But for the most part, we're doing it wrong
the the non and counterintuitive way that actually has some hope of changing our lives for the better is to open up to the inevitable discomfort that we're going to feel as human beings
we need somehow to find the willingness to go against the grain to find a strategy other than running away. And that, that requires a willingness. It's not enough simply to to understand intellectually. We have to we have to get it in our bones. I don't know any other way to do that. Then practice that awareness. Starting point, though, is to realize that we're basically not really so wheeling isn't something that we really want to do. It's nice to talk about Zen practice. It's fun to read about it. Used to be the main mode of Zen practice in the 1950s go to cocktail parties and tell stories argue about koans.
Anthony de Mello said something about this whole problem of being willing to change, he said. So the first thing admit that your life is a mess. And second, this is a little bit tougher. Okay. You ready? Here it is. You don't want to get out of it. You do not want to get out of the mess. Talk to any psychologist who's worth his name. And he'll confirm that. The last thing a client wants is a cure. He doesn't want a cure. He wants relief. Eric Bern, one of your great psychiatrists here in the United States put it very graphically. He suggested you imagine a client who's up to his nose in a cesspool, okay. Yeah, he calls it liquid excrement. And he's coming to the doctor. And you know what he's saying to him? He's asking the doctor, could you help me? So people won't make waves? The client doesn't want to get out of the cesspool? No, no, no, get out for heaven's sake, no. Just helped me so they won't make waves.
So how do we get out of the mess? How do we work with our habitual reactions? How do we let go of our anxiety about some imagined future? Our anxiety about what other people think about us what kind of a picture we present to the world? How do we give ourselves more fully to whatever's in front of us? Well, the first thing that's helpful is to notice when discomfort arises. It's it's it's been called a compassionate alarm clock. Feel that feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach. Instead of turning away, turn towards it and look at it. It's always a body component. Anytime you're having any emotion whatsoever, it's in the body. It's not just in the mind
open up to it. See what it is. The wonderful thing about all the time we spend facing the wall and doing Zan is that we gain the ability we gradually learn to stay here. Stay still not to spin off into thoughts. Prediction and fantasies and regrets.
Don't try to fix it. Don't try to create a different state of mind. Zen doesn't work that way. If you're trying to create a state of mind, you're not really doing Zen, not really looking. This, this principle is at the center of a nother form of psychotherapy, which followed on after DBT dialectical behavior therapy. And it's called Act, which stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I actually think I gave a Dharma talk about it some years ago. And there's something you read just a little thing about act. Think this is an a book from a guy named Steven Hayes, who's one of the primary movers and shakers and in this form of therapy. He says act accepts the ubiquity of human suffering, and does not seek to reduce pain or to produce a particular positive feeling. It is not about producing quick fixes, or about using culturally sanctioned feel good formulas and methods to reduce suffering. Act seeks instead to reduce suffering, by increasing people's vitality, and ability to do what they want to do with their lives. This is another way of saying what we said last week. If you imagine there's a snake in the room, and you know, there really isn't walk into the room, even though you're afraid. He says, This is what the ACT approach is all about. Except and have what is there to be had anxiety, anger, joy, memories, the whole package, while also staying committed to do what needs to be done to live a fulfilled rich life, guided by chosen values. People can choose to do things they enjoy and value, regardless of what it is that they think or feel. How often do we find ourselves spending time trying to psych ourselves up to something to do something that we could just do?
Making a phone call
asking someone for their phone number, whatever. So many times where we think of it, we have the anxiety about it. And then we start struggling with the anxiety where in fact, you can just go straight to the action. The more you do that, the more the anxiety finds its proper place in your life. And it does have a place. fear keeps us from killing ourselves. I
was reading some something when I was preparing for this talk about how some people procrastinate. I've heard that's true. And anxiety kind of works. That it's a strategy, I have to admit, it's a strategy that I myself have often used, did a little better with this talk, which probably is a bad sign, but it's so hard to work on it before it's a looming overhead. And once it looms overhead and you feel panicked, all of a sudden, it's really possible to concentrate. So anxiety sort of works in that way. But what about those people who don't seem to procrastinate, you know, the first semester week of the semester, they start working on that final paper that's going to be due in 12 weeks, and do about a 12th of it and then gradually work their way week after week through it always seemed to me that those people would be totally free from anxiety. But what this article I was reading said was that it's not that they don't feel anxiety, it's just that it doesn't take very much anxiety to get them to move. So it may be that if you're a person, like me, who requires a fairly hefty dose of anxiety you're just you're not really tuned in To, to what you're feeling you can improve, you can do a little better
he says anxiety need not stand in the way of doing. If anxious clients start to move down this path, they are likely to feel more anxiety at first. Eventually, they will. Eventually they will probably feel more enjoyment and less pain and anxiety. If that happens, it is considered a welcome byproduct of therapy, it is not an explicit goal of Act.
There's a number of images they use working with clients to sort of help them buy into this idea of accepting the fear accepting the anxiety accepting the discomfort, not trying to push it out, get rid of it. And here's one really good little image. Suppose you come across someone standing in the middle of a pool of quicksand. There are no ropes or tree branches available. The only way you can help is by talking to them. Sort of the position of a therapist. The person shouts help get me out, is beginning to do what people do struggling to get out. 99.9% of the time, the effective action to take is to walk run, step, hop or jump out of trouble, but not with quicksand. Normally, to step out of something, you need to lift one foot and move the other one forward. With quicksand, that's a bad idea. Once one foot is lifted, all the person's weight rests on the other foot, half of the previous surface area, and the downward pressure doubles, the person sinks deeper. As you watch, you see them starting to sink deeper. If you understand how quicksand works, you might shout at them to lie flat spreadeagled to maximize contact with the surface. The person therefore probably won't sink, fingers crossed, and might be able to roll to safety. Since the person is trying to get out of the quicksand, it goes against all their natural instincts to maximize body contact with it. Someone struggling to get out of the mud may never realize that the wise and safer action is to get with the mud. Our own lives can be very much like this, the normal problem solving methods that we use, sometimes repeatedly for years, actually, for many people for their entire life from beginning to end. To try to deal with the struggles we face may themselves be part of the problem, just like someone trying to get free in the quicksand.
He makes up a really good point.
This whole issue of accepting this discomfort accepting anxiety says we all hate being anxious. It's a horrible feeling. It feels overwhelmingly disturbing. And understandably we try to keep it at bay by avoiding anything that might make us anxious or by doing things that help us feel safer in those situations where we feel anxious. And then he lays out a sentence. If you're not willing to have it, you will. What does it mean? If I'm not willing to be anxious, I will be anxious. So if I'm not willing to be anxious, I will be anxious. I hate being anxious. So I guess I could give it a try. I'll try to be more willing to feel my anxiety, anxiety, so I won't be anxious, okay. But if you decide you could be willing to be anxious in order to be rid of the anxiety then you're not really willing to be anxious, and that will result in feeling more anxious. He says this is not just mumbo jumbo. It might it might sound weird. Not right. And yet it seems that it's true. If you're only willing to feel anxiety because you hope that by being willing to feel it, it will reduce your anxiety then it cannot work. That is not the same as being willing to feel your anxiety why is that? Because you Looking, you're looking ahead, you're waiting for your anxiety to pass. It's like wanting to come to awakening can't happen as long as you're wanting to do that. We really have to make a complete commitment. We really have to give up our agenda really have to buy completely in. It helps to talk about it, it helps to understand it really helps us to just do it again and again, imperfectly, for sure. But devotedly, noticing the mind straying into our concerns about the future, or into our regrets about the past, noticing that and coming back this breath right now. Just the question, just the awareness. Again, and again. The changes that come are not directed. We're not trying to create something it's just like the principle they have an act. So byproduct somebody wants said, awakening is an accident. And Zen makes you accident prone.
says one final thing here. Notice when you start to feel the normal body response to unhelpful thoughts. Don't struggle or fight with the feelings and thoughts. Just let them be. At its final point, it will pass that third characteristic of existence, it's really hard to to understand that in your gut, that things will pass. We always feel like whatever emotional state we're in, is going to last forever.
One of the reasons people take their own lives just seems like this will never change. But it does. An emotion that doesn't change is being kept alive by whatever strategy we're adopting to fight it off. Left alone the rule of thumb is any emotional lasts no more than 90 seconds. This life of ours is fluid and changing. can use that to rev up our insecurity and anxiety or we can use it to change.
It helps not to hold yourself to some sort of an ideal. A lot of people who practice Zen are excellent students, and they have lived a life of being complimented and praised for their diligence. And that can be a bad habit. If you focus on measuring up, then one mistake can send you into a tailspin.
As I'm fond of saying one off shit will cancel out 100 attaboys it's better to stay in touch with the fact that we're just human beings
don't need to be special there's nothing special about having Buddha nature. Evidently everybody's got it
I found something written by a guy named Robert yielding. Apparently he's part of the National Social Anxiety Center. I thought there was a solar plexus I can't take time to read the whole thing but he has two little phrases that he mentions that are helpful for people who are feeling disconnected or different from others or not measuring up. The first one comes from Pema children. And that's just a practice a simple practice she calls just like me, just like me, just like me or others, all others feel anxious sometimes. Just like me, others here have felt anxious, insecure or different. To realize this is a universal human phenomenon. The other phrase he likes is just human. He says, in one of his numerous writings, a Dalai Lama retold the story of how he responded when someone asked him how he never appears anxious before the talks and meetings he has in front of large crowds. His response was simple, stating, just human. Now this guy says I've interpreted that to mean that despite the endless varieties of people he's talked with, they all share the same universal human experience and share the same essential nature, just like him. We're all fallible and imperfect and will some make some social mishaps and even not be viewed positively by others at times. Fortunately, none of us are alone in this
when I hear him saying just human can also take it to mean I'm just human. Don't have to be anything more than who I am.
It's incredibly liberating, to stop trying to stretch yourself into some contorted image that looks better than the reality
trying to be an Instagram Buddhist.
There's another story about the Dalai Lama and anxiety.
It's from a guy named West Niska some sort of Buddhist teacher out in California.
He says, a few years ago, I just happened to be on the same 18 seat plane as the Dalai Lama flying from Dharamsala to New Delhi, a route where the updrafts from the Himalayan foothills can be vicious. In his autobiography, His Holiness talks about his fear of flying, and every time I glanced back at him on this particular flight, he was visibly anxious, staring intently out of the window, while fingering his Mala, and silently reciting a mantra. Just the fact that the Dalai Lama was on the plane made me feel safer. But seeing his nervousness was also somehow comforting, making my own fear of flying seem less personal.
And then he says, becoming more comfortable with fear begins with our acknowledgement that these strong sensations we feel, are biologically programmed a biologically programmed reaction to some perceived threat. The Buddha called all such organic reactions, quote, underlying tendencies, and said that the way to work with them is to realize this is not mine. This I am not, this is not myself. If we understand fear as an evolved survival mechanism, we gain some perspective and perhaps some release from identification with the feeling. We might even arrive at a place where we can bow down to fear seeing it as a friend who is looking out for our very life.
So much of our anxiety concerns, not pain that we might feel, though I guess maybe it becomes emotional pain but just fear of other people having a bad opinion of us. Remember when I was doing the steps of AAA, one of them is you make a list of everybody you resent. I had a very large list. And when I looked through it, I found that everyone I had a resentment of there was something that had happened with them, where I appeared in a bad light, that the fact that they saw my not so great side, sort of snapped me into that feeling of resentment. Roshi Kapleau was on that list. Along with my dad once gave a talk about resentment, and the time my father was visiting, and he was in a wheelchair or he needed a wheelchair for to have to see the talk. And sorted Roshi Kapleau. So the two of them were in wheelchairs on either side of the doorway. As I sat with my back to the altar, it was great.
But that's another place where we can really clear the air quite a bit. If we begin to see how unnecessary it is to measure up to anybody else's idea. I've often quoted what the great physicist Richard Feynman said he wrote a whole book and the title was, what do you care what other people think? So I'm gonna read a rant, by that guy, Anthony de Mello. I've read from before, probably read this rant before, but just puts a stake in it says, a small time businessman. 55 years old, is sipping a beer at a bar somewhere. And he's saying, well look at my classmates, they really made it the idiot. What does he mean they made it, they've got their names in the newspaper, you call that making it. One is president of the corporation, the other has become the Chief Justice, somebody else has become this or that monkeys, all of them. Who determines what it means to be a success? This stupid society, the main preoccupation of society is to keep society sick. And the sooner you realize that the better sick, every one of them, they're Loony, they're crazy. You become president of the lunatic asylum, and you're proud of it, even though it means nothing. Being president of a corporation has nothing to do with being a success in life. Having a lot of money has nothing to do with being a success in life. Your success in life when you wake up, then you don't have to apologize to anyone. You don't have to explain anything to anyone. You don't give a damn what anyone thinks about you, or what anybody says about you. You have no worries, you're happy. That's what I call being a success. Having a good job or being famous, or having a great reputation has absolutely nothing to do with happiness or success. Nothing is totally irrelevant. All he's really worried about is what his children will think about him what the neighbors will think about him what his wife will think about him, he should have become famous. Our society and culture, drill that into our heads day and night. People who made it made what made asses of themselves, because they drained all their energy getting something that was worthless. They're frightened and confused. They're puppets like the rest. Look at these. Look at them strutting across the stage. Look how upset they get if they get a stain on their shirt. You call that a success. Look at how frightened they are at the prospect. They might not get reelected. You call that success. They're controlled. They're so controlled and so manipulated, they're unhappy people. They are miserable people, they don't enjoy life. They are constantly tense and anxious. Do you call that human? And you know why that happens? for only one reason. They identified without some label. They identified the eye with their money or their job or their profession. That was their error. So poignant to talk with someone who's maybe in their 40s or 50s. And they're they're feeling bad because they've never had accomplish much. They don't have a job a high paying job or they're not a professional success. Inevitably comparing themselves to other people, but what what would be what would be great at the age of 40, or 50 would be to be at peace with yourself. The ability to be present with other people, to be able to offer genuine sympathy, to be able to do what needs to be done in spite of your anxiety, or reluctance to be able to live out of your values. Those things have nothing to do with career. There's nothing wrong with a career. I suppose there's probably nothing wrong with becoming president of the asylum. But if that's your goal, you're going at it the wrong way. It's not going to end well.
Need to realize that worry serves a purpose reminds us of something we may need to do. And beyond that, it serves no purpose whatsoever. There's a movie with a script written by David Mamet, in which a character I think played by Gene Hackman says, worry is interest paid in advance on a debt that never comes due. I had to look that up to get it exactly right. And it turns out, it's really a reworking of something that Mark Twain is apparently said quite a number of years before. Mark Twain also said, I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, most of which never happened.
Since it's so important to find a way to work with things as they are to work with our habits. It's it's, it's so wonderful that there is a way of working that that that works. To understand it. It's not trying to manipulate things, it's not trying to create a specific change is just giving ourselves to our lives, doing what needs to be done. We do it for the sake of others. Because unless we're present, we can't really be available, we can't really help. And of course, we do it for ourselves
because over time, anxiety does diminish.
Slowly, slowly, inevitably means that our stress diminishes, which means that our energy increases. Room for joy
it's really, it's really good news. You know, people people say that Buddhism is a pretty depressing religion. And you can understand why, right? Life is suffering. Nothing stays the same. You don't even exist.
I read somewhere. Buddha said the past is gone. Future is not here. There is no present. I didn't get you one.
It's a it's actually good news, too, to have a teaching that explains things as they are that makes sense that's consistent, that's reasonable. And then to have a way of working with what we've got. It's not based on hopes or dreams. It's just practical and simple. We're not called upon to become something that we're not the Zen teacher John Taran said, we are all of us flowers. What kind of flower has no is not our business. Our job is just to blossom. Okay, I've talked long and our time is up. And we'll stop now and recite the four vows.